At the sign of the Barking lion...

St James, Icklingham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Icklingham St James

Icklingham St James Icklingham St James Icklingham St James
Icklingham St James HA 1865 Icklingham St James

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      Icklingham sprawls along the busy Bury to Mildenhall road, its most prominent feature the great towers of Heygates flour mill. There are two lesser towers too, for the village has two medieval parish churches, one at each end of its street. St James is by the Mill and All Saints is at the eastern end of the village. The living was shared from the 18th Century onwards, but the parishes were not combined until the 1970s when the decision was made to close All Saints and retain St James as the parish church. There were very good reasons for this choice, and yet it may well have not been the right one, as we will see.

The most striking feature of St James is the blank sided west tower, as if it were only masquerading as a tower and was actually hiding something else. The medieval tower fell in the 18th Century and it was rebuilt in 1808, a curious date under the circumstances and explaining why there was no attempt at Gothic correctness. Its current appearance is probably a result of the considerable restoration here by Bacon & Bell in the 1860s. To the east, the oldest part of the church as we see it today is the chancel which is of early 14th Century origin, although again much restored. Simon Cotton identified a bequest of 1467 in which the rector John Tanny left 5 marks to the emendation of the chancel window. This is probably also a good date for the rebuilding of the nave with aisles and clerestory. Again though, the character is all of the 1860s restoration, and James Bettley points out the signatures of the flint workers who resurfaced the aisles, JN and HA each inscribed with the date 1865.

If you had any doubt, entering through the south porch brings you into a space which is almost entirely of Bacon & Bell's restoration. This is a little claustrophobic, because despite the aisles this is not a large space, and the furnishings have a feel of being shoehorned in, the whole piece cast in the dim light of the coloured glass. The richness of the sanctuary decoration suggests that there was a High Church enthusiasm here.The doorways are surmounted by 1860s banner inscriptions, The Lord is in his Holy Temple to the north to be seen on entering, and Be ye Doers of the Word and not Hearers only above the south doorway for when the parishioners left.

The saving grace in the glass is one of those spectacular Robert Bayne windows of the 1860s. Bayne was a maverick genius who, on joining the firm of Heaton & Butler, propelled it into the height of Victorian Gothic fashion. And yet they would be victims of their own success, for by the subsequent decades the firm was necessarily churning out mass-produced run of the mill stuff to keep up with its order books. There are examples of this later period on both sides of the chancel, but nothing should take away from Bayne's Ascension. The other glass in the church is an unusual depiction in the south aisle of the Roman Centurion asking Christ to heal his child. It's by Mayer & Son, and the pleasing window of Christ suffering the children which is now hidden behind the toilet installed beneath the tower, is also by them I think. The one old survival is a splendid early 14th century ironbound parish chest, brought here from All Saints in the 1970s.

I hope I will be forgiven for thinking that the interior here is a little faded and even shabby nowadays, but this is inevitable because very little has happened to this building since the 1860s restoration and the two or three decades which followed it. You might even think for a moment that you have been transported back to the busy confidence of the late 19th Century, the reborn and revitalised Victorian Church of England, then approaching the height of its power and influence . It was the age of Empire, and you can find interiors like that of St James all over the world, wherever Anglicanism's influence reached. We could be in suburban Melbourne, or Buenos Aires, or Calcutta. This is a place where there was no shortage of money to bring the church up to date, from the furnishings to the stone reredos, from the quotations above the doors to the tiled sanctuary and the stained glass. There was a comfort to this clutter, a sense of patronage, duty and determination.

And yet of course it seems very old fashioned to us today. When the parishes were combined, it must have seemed a fairly easy decision to keep this one and close All Saints. The other church had no electricity, no running water. The furnishings at All Saints are mainly of the 17th and 18th Centuries, and it is a large square space, full of light. Ironically of course, this is exactly the kind of space that might suit the clarity and simplicity of modern Anglican worship, but they were not to know that half a century ago.


Simon Knott, February 2023

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looking east sanctuary chancel
the east window is set up Icklingham St James The Lord is in his Holy Temple
The Roman centurion asks Christ to heal his child Ascension (Robert Bayne, 1863) Presentation in the Temple Three Marys and the angel at the empty tomb
angel with a lily suffer little children (detail) suffer little children (detail) suffer little children (detail) angel with a crown
aumbry suffer little children be ye doers of the word and not hearers only


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